Perfectly Steamed Rice

Perfectly steamed jasmine rice. Time varies for brown and long grain rice

Perfectly steamed jasmine rice. Time varies for brown and long grain rice

I had no idea that so many people had difficulty making the perfect pot of steamed white rice. It’s so easy! The key? Do NOT stir it or lift the lid, and buy a good pot. A good rice pot need not be expensive. My favorite rice pot is an Imusa caldero that I purchased for $5 from my favorite Caribbean grocery (they also have AMAZING produce and fresh meat). If you’re just beginning to cook, this is a great place to start! This technique works for any rice dish.

Keys for Perfect Pot of Rice

  • Remember that rice doubles when it cooks, I like to serve 1/4-1/3 cup of rice per person. Therefore One 1/2 cup of dry rice will yield a whole cup when cooked, which will serve 4 people.
  • Always double the amount of water for boiling. If boiling 1 cup of dry rice, use 2 cups of water; 2 cups of rice, 4 cups of water, etc.
  • Use chicken, beef, or vegetable stock instead of water
  • Season water or stock with a little salt and pepper
  • Add a tablespoon of unsalted butter to boiling water for added flavor
  • Saute sliced nuts such as almonds for added and delicious texture to your rice
  • Scallions, yellow raisins, curry powder, etc are all great additions to your white steamed rice
  • Never stir rice while cooking
  • Never open lid
  • Brown rice takes almost double the time to cook, compared to white rice. be patient.
  • Keep all spoons away from pot until you’re ready to serve.
  • DO NOT STIR RICE

Directions

Place desired amount of water or stock in pot. Season if desired. bring to a boil.

Once liquid is rapidly boiling, add butter and dry rice.

Allow rice to boil rapidly for ONE (1) minute.

Immediately place pot’s top on it and turn to stove’s lowest setting.

Allow rice to cook on low for 20 minutes or until liquid is evaporated. Try not to peak (smile). After 20 white rice is done. If preparing brown rice, remember it will take almost 40 minutes. Top with another tablespoon of unsalted butter if desired.

Do not stir rice to serve. Fluff with a fork and scoop with spoon or small measuring cup to serve.

Sunday Smothered Chicken

Smothered Chicken (shown with flour & milk eliminated for "healthier" version

Smothered Chicken (shown with flour & milk eliminated for “healthier” version

This is a perfect and quick entree for your Sunday meal. I don’t have a “story” like my other items, because I created this one Lenten Season when I had given up red meat. I wanted a beef chuck roast and created this instead. That’s it! I hope you enjoy! Serve with rice, cabbage, and corn bread.

Ingredients 

1 roasting chicken cut into 8 pieces OR cut up for stewing/currying (see your butcher)

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons black or cayenne pepper

2 medium yellow onion cut in half and sliced

2 celery stalks, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon chopped or minced garlic

1/2 cup vegetable or coconut oil

1 cup all purpose flour for coating

6 cups cold water or room temperature chicken stock (AND OPTIONAL 1/2 cup flour and 1 cup cold heavy cream)

1/2 cup corn starch (8 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

On a sheet pan  place chicken pieces that have been patted dry and fat trimmed, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and flour on both sides.

In a heavy pot (i.e. a dutch oven) heat vegetable (or coconut) oil over medium-high heat. Place chicken skin side down in single layer. Cook for 10 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken and cook another 10 minutes (Chicken should be golden brown, although it is not completely cooked). Remove chicken and place on a CLEAN sheet pan. Do not drain.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions, garlic, and celery. Scrape the bottom of the pot, loosening chicken debris. Cook vegetables until tender. In a large bowl whisk chicken stock or COLD water with corn starch, and add liquid to pot with vegetables. At this time, you may also whisk in cold heavy cream and flour for a more decedent flavor.

Add dried parsley, fresh thyme, and remaining salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil (7-10 minutes), stirring frequently. Return chicken to pot. Cook in liquid for another 25 minutes on medium-low heat. Chicken should almost fall off of the bone. Serve with rice, cabbage, and cornbread.

 

 

 

Service Through Hospitality in Your Home

 

The pineapple is the visual keystone of grand dinners during the colonial period. They came to symbolize the high spirits of the social events themselves; the image of the pineapple coming to express the sense of welcome, good cheer, human warmth and family affection inherent to such gracious home gatherings.

The pineapple is the visual keystone of grand dinners during the colonial period. They came to symbolize the high spirits of the social events themselves; the image of the pineapple coming to express the sense of welcome, good cheer, human warmth and family affection inherent to such gracious home gatherings.

From time to time I find it necessary to remind myself (and my readers) that although I post lots of recipes and entertaining ideas, that the mission of this blog is to increase service to others. There’s no reason to cook these fabulous meals or to beautifully decorate your home and not share it with others. Hospitality is truly the gift that keeps giving. So here are some ways to ensure that you are sharing the gift of hospitality with others.

Invite Others into Your Home

Your home is an expression of who you are. There’s an expression that says, “You never really know a person until you have seen their home.” Your house may be humble or it may be grand, but your home is what you infuse into it. What does your home say about you? Are you friendly, inviting, imaginative, quiet, artistic? One of the ways I can tell if a person truly is hospitable is how others feel when they visit a home. Are they restless? Listen, if it takes a long time to get them to say “goodbye”, then you know you’ve made them feel welcome. People are often reluctant to leave a place were they feel surrounded by calm, warmth, love, and contentment. Ultimately, your home should be a blessing to others besides yourself. 

Burn Frankincense

Yes, that frankincense. One of the gifts presented to baby Jesus. Frankincense is an incense and ingredient used in sacred anointing oil. It was considered very valuable in biblical times. Just as frankincense represents sacrifice, it also represents sacrificial and selflessness. By burning frankincense you set the tone for service to others. And you even cleanse the air.  Pick up some frankincense from your local bontanica or herb shop.

Cook for Others in YOUR Home

There’s something beautiful that happens when you serve someone food that you prepared (made) with your own hands. Not food that you purchased and reheated or placed on a platter, but food that you prepared. it is not just an expression of servanthood, but it is an impartation of your spirit to theirs. Trust me, people are aware of the effort taken to do something special, such as preparing a meal, for them. For those interested, there’s a great book entitled God Is in the Kitchen Too (2003) by P. Bunny Wilson.

Set Your Table

By setting your kitchen or dining room table, you are making your home look inviting to guests. Remember, the dinner table is a place of offering, communion (let that marinate), and fellowship. It is through fellowship that we get to know each other better. You know, I think that fellowship over a meal is one way to become intimate with someone you love or are romantically interested in. Intimacy is definitely deepened over a meal. You may also experience heartfelt emotions, growth through conversation, and even find new commitments made.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS THAT YOU EXPRESS HOSPITALITY IN YOUR HOME?

Quick Banana “Bread”

This is the easiest banana “bread” (it tastes like cake to me) recipe that you’ll find! I created this out of ingredients that I always have at home. Essentially, I could make this “bread” every single day of the week. LOL The additions frequently change; sometimes I add chocolate chips, sometimes walnuts or pecans, and sometimes nothing at all. This recipe is fairly healthy and a great addition when unexpected guests stop by for breakfast and stay for dinner. Best of all, it can be made without bringing out all of your heavy baking equipment.

 

Quick and easy banana "bread." This bread is shown with chocolate chips.

Quick and easy banana “bread.” This “bread” is shown with chocolate chips.

 

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter melted

1 cup white or brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup apple sauce (plain, sugar free, cinnamon, etc.)

3 ripe or overripe bananas (this is a great way to use overripe bananas instead of throwing them out)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Optional- 1/2 cup walnuts, pecans, chocolate chips, etc. dusted in all purpose flour (this ensures that they don’t sink to the bottom of batter)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In large bowl mix melted butter and sugar using a spoon. Add two eggs and vanilla, Mix until well incorporated.

Pour in flour, baking soda, and salt. Fold* flour mixture into wet egg mixture. Once well incorporated, fold in apple sauce.

In separate bowl peel bananas and mash with potato masher or the back of a spoon. Fold mashed bananas into flour-egg mixture. Lastly, stir in cinnamon and any additional ingredients that you may have on hand.

Pour into and bake in well oiled (Cooking spray works great) loaf pan or metal 8×8 dish . If you use glass, the cake will brown much faster, which may result in a brown cake that is under-cooked inside.

Bake for 60 minutes or until a inserted knife is clean when removed. Allow to cool. Serve.

* Ingredients are folded in, instead of stirred in, so that batter is not over mixed. An over-mixed batter results in a dense cake. 

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup. The perfect first course to your Thanksgiving meal.

Butternut squash soup. The perfect first course for your Thanksgiving meal. The soup tureen is a staple in my kitchen. Great for serving soups and stews directly from the table.

 

 

I serve this soup as my first course every Thanksgiving. It is a simple soup with lots of flavor. For an added treat, I usually top it with duck confit (duck thighs that have been browned in duck fat and shredded) or browned diced ham and a little creme fraiche. Once you try this, you too will make it a staple on your Thanksgiving table.

Serves 10-12 cups OR 6-8 large bowls. 

Ingredients

3 lbs butternut or any seasonal squash peeled, seeds removed, and cut into large pieces (for easy skin removal, cut in half, remove seeds, cover in plastic wrap and microwave until slightly soft— Please note, many grocery chains now sell squash already peeled and cut up. This is a great time saver when preparing for large groups.)

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into quarters

4 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces

2 granny smith apples (although any apples that you happen to have on hand will work too), peeled and cut into quarters

1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil + 1/2 tablespoon salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter

2 quarts chicken stock

3 sprigs each: fresh thyme, and fresh sage

2 dried bay leaves

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1/2 tablespoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a sheet pan with foil.

Toss onions, apples, carrots, and squash with olive oil in large bowl. Place in even layer on sheet pan and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 15- 20 minutes. Then cover with foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.  Vegetables should be soft.

Roasted squash, apple, onion, and carrot

Roasted squash, apple, onion, and carrot

Remove vegetables from oven and set pan aside.

In large heavy pot add 1 1/2 quarts of chicken stock. Reserve half of one quart for later use.

Heat on medium and add fresh thyme and sage. Reduce temperature and allow to simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place roasted vegetables into blender 1-2 cups at a time. Add some of the reserved chicken stock to each batch for easy blending, Blend on low until smooth velvety consistency. If using an immersion stick/blender, simply add all vegetables and remaining stock to pot with chicken stock and blend.

Pour blended vegetables into chicken stock. Add butter, ginger, nutmeg, salt, cayenne pepper, and bay leaves. Stir. Allow soup to simmer on low for an additional 30 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaves, thyme stems, and whole sage leaves.

Remove soup from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Slowly whisk in heavy cream (optional).

Return to pot to lowest stove setting. Soup is ready to serve.

Perfect (Party) Meatballs

Perfect Meatballs! Serve with your favorite red or brown gravy, bbq sauce, or even plain.

Perfect Meatballs! Serve with your favorite red or brown gravy, bbq sauce, or even plain.

I developed this recipe after eating one too many reheated/frozen meatballs at cocktail parties and dry meatballs that simply tasted like hamburger at home (not my home, of course). These meatballs can be used in your favorite tomato sauce (red gravy), bbq sauce, or brown gravy. These are full of flavor, for as you will see I use a lot of seasoning, which includes a few you would not expect. The eggs do not add moisture, but rather help bind them. Therefore, if your meat mixture appears dry add more milk by the tablespoons full. The extra olive oil on your hands keeps the meat from sticking to your hands. You can add 1/2 cup of good quality shredded Parmesan cheese to meat mixture when preparing to accompany a red gravy (tomato sauce).

Ingredients

2 lbs ground chuck (80/20) finely ground

1 lb mild Italian sausage removed from casing

2 large eggs

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup milk or cream

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) dried parsley flakes

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) dried oregano

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) dried basil

3 tablespoons marjoram

3 tablespoons dried thyme

OR replace the above dried oregano, basil, marjoram, and thyme with your favorite dried Italian seasoning blend

3 tablespoons ground nutmeg

3 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil for baking

2-4 tablespoons of olive oil for your hands

Parchment paper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil on sheet pan and place in oven.

Keep pan in oven until all meatballs are formed.

Lay out parchment paper on flat surface.

In a large bowl mix all remaining ingredients with your hands. This is important. Do not use a spoon. Using your hands will ensure that all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Oil your hands with olive oil. Pinch off small pieces of meat mixture (using your thumb, index and middle fingers usually yields the perfect amount) and roll it into 2 inch balls. Place balls on parchment paper. Once you’ve rolled out all of meat into balls remove sheet pan from the oven and place balls onto hot pan. You should hear them sizzle.

Bake on 400 for 15- 20 minutes, until light brown.

Remove from oven and add to your favorite sauce to continue cooking and adding flavor to your sauce.

This recipe yields 30-40 2 inch meat balls.

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Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup garnished with heavy cream and served with crusty bread (multi grain baguette shown here)

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup garnished with heavy cream and served with crusty bread (multi grain baguette shown here)

Tomato soup is one of my favorite soups. And full disclosure, my favorite meal of all time is soup and sandwich. This recipe uses fresh tomatoes, but you can use your own canned fresh tomatoes from an earlier season (I’m just learning to can fresh vegetables). I love the different colors and shapes of heirloom tomatoes. As an added bonus, I add fresh carrots to this recipe. It doesn’t alter the taste, but it does increase your daily vegetable intake. I love to serve this with crusty bread, grilled cheese cubes or even  cornbread. The fresh cream that I use comes from Pittsford Dairy ; a perfect example of one of the things I missed from upstate NY while living in the deep south the last decade.

Ingredients


3 pounds fresh heirloom tomatoes (rinsed and cut in half)

3 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces

4-6 garlic cloves peeled

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 yellow onion peeled and sliced

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons coarse salt

1 and 1/2 quarts chicken stock or vegetable stock

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

3-4 dried/fresh bay leaves

1 cup heavy cream

1-2 fresh basil leaves, optional

additional salt and black pepper for taste,

Directions 

Cover cookie/baking sheet with foil. In bowl mix tomatoes, carrots, garlic, thyme and onion tossing with olive oil and salt.

Transfer to cookie/baking sheet. Roast in 425 degree F oven for 20-30 minutes or until caramelized.

Remove roasted vegetables from oven. Allow vegetables to cool and remove skin from large tomatoes (peel). Place remaining roasted vegetables in large stock/soup pot with butter. Cook an additional 5-7 minutes on medium heat. Cover with 1 quart of chicken stock. Bring to boil adding bay leaves, sugar, and additional salt and black pepper to taste. Boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat and cook on low for 15 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and thyme and use an immersion stick to puree soup in pot until smooth. If you do not have an immersion stick, ladle soup into blender and blend 2 cups at a time. Return to pot ensuring heat is on low. Add basil leaves at this point, if using. Alternate adding heavy cream and remaining chicken stock by the 1/2 cup full.  Again, make sure stove is on low to avoid curdling of cream. Whisk thoroughly when adding each liquid.

Garnish each bowl with a splash of remaining heavy cream.

Serves 4-6.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Garlic, Onion, Tomatoes, Carrots, Thyme, and Olive Oil

Garlic, Onion, Tomatoes, Carrots, Thyme, and Olive Oil

Roasted vegetables for Tomato Soup

Roasted vegetables for Tomato Soup

St. Denis Street Stuffed Bell Peppers

New Orleans Stuffed Bell Peppers a la Mother White (Shrimp, Ground Chuck, and Andouille Sausage); omit beef and sausage and add crab meat  for a flavorful twist.

New Orleans Stuffed Bell Peppers a la Mother White (Shrimp, Ground Chuck, and Andouille Sausage); omit beef and sausage and add crab meat for a flavorful twist.

I recently lost my 90 year old grandmother in New Orleans. She was a beautiful woman whose personality and food was renown all over New Orleans. When I first relocated to New Orleans, she was living on St. Denis Street, directly across from Dillard University, awaiting the rebuilding of her home in the lower 9th ward which Hurricane Katrina all but destroyed. It was on St. Denis Street that I began to take an interest in developing my cooking style. I could cook “well” prior to moving to New Orleans, but Mother White (my grandmother), taught me how to elevate my food to the maximum level. It is in New Orleans that food became my way of showing love. Together, we would prepare stuffed bell peppers for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It’s important to note that in New Orleans, the preparation of stuffed bell peppers varies based upon the neighborhood. Typically, those in the 7th ward would use tomatoes and/or tomato sauce in their stuffed bell peppers and rice. Another way to prepare this recipe is to omit the beef and sausage and instead add fresh crab meat with the shrimp. Mother White said that, “[my] food will get you a husband and keep him.” We’ll see.

Serve with baked macaroni (and cheese) and a green vegetable such as green beans.

Ingredients 

8 medium sized red bell peppers, tops and seeds removed and cut in half lengthwise

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons Creole Seasoning (a mixture of salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, etc)

1 medium yellow onion diced

4 stalks celery, peeled and diced

1 bell pepper, cleaned and chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1/2 pan prepared cornbread crumbled or 1 1/2 cup bread stuffing/dressing mix

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 lb ground chuck

1 lb cooked ham finely chopped OR 1lb smoked sausage/andouille sausage chopped into small cubes

1 lb medium or large sized fresh (gulf if available) shrimp heads removed, peeled, and deveined; each cut in half

2 cups chicken or beef stock

Directions

In large pot place olive oil and add diced bell peppers, onions, garlic, and celery. Cook over medium heat.

Once vegetables are translucent, add ham/sausage and ground beef. Cook until beef is no longer pink. Add shrimp. Cook until shrimp is pink. Be careful not to over cook, shrimp will become rubbery.

To same pot add crumbled cornbread or stuffing mix and bread crumbs. Mix with vegetables and meat. Add chicken or beef stock by the 1/2 cup full to moisten while incorporating with vegetables and meat. Season to taste with creole seasoning. If too thick/dry add more stock.

Cut 6 bell peppers in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and membrane. Spoon dressing (bread, meat, and vegetable mixture) into each half. Place on lightly oiled baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degree F oven for 30-45 minutes or until peppers are softened. FYI to cut cooking time down, blanch peppers in hot water for 5 minutes after cutting in half.

Serves 8.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Skillet Cornbread

Skillet Cornbread

Skillet Cornbread

This recipe for cornbread is much better than any of the popular premixed brands. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon honey and pour over bread for a sweeter taste; although, this cornbread has the perfect amount of sweetness. I prefer cake flour, but all purpose flour will work just as well. This can be prepared in any type of pan, although I prefer a cast iron skillet, which results in a crispy crust. This is perfect for soups, chili, stews, beans, and even for a “country style” breakfast of corn bread and milk.

Ingredients


1 1/2 cups cake flour

3/4 cups fine yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup white sugar (or tubinado)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup 1% or skim milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 egg

3 extra tablespoons vegetable oil for pan

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pour 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil into pan, ensuring bottom and sides of pan are coated. Place pan in 400 degree F oven.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Whisk in milk, vegetable oil and egg until smooth. Should not be lumpy.

Remove pan from oven. Oil should be hot. Pour batter into hot pan (it should sizzle and sides begin to crisp up immediately).

Bake in 400 degree F oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown and a inserted knife comes out clean.

Remove bread from oven and immediately rub hot bread with 4 tablespoons of butter. Place bread back into oven for another 2-3 minutes allowing butter to soak into bread.

Serve warm. Serves 7-10.

 

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells with Sauce

 

Spinach Stuffed Shells served with Meat Sauce

Spinach Stuffed Shells served with Meat Sauce

This recipe is a little time consuming, but well worth it in the end! This is vegetarian friendly by simply omitting the ground chuck and Italian sausage. I often serve this with grilled chicken and a blush sauce (tomato sauce with heavy cream added) for a different flavor. Serves 6-8.

Ingredients

24 ounces (2 boxes) Jumbo Pasta Shells or Manicotti Shells

1 cup fresh baby spinach rinsed and cooked in 1 teaspoon olive oil, drained and chopped

2 lbs part skim ricotta cheese

3 eggs

1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoon black pepper

1 lb Italian sausage (removed from casing)

1 lb ground chuck

1 cup baby bella mushrooms finely chopped

1 large yellow onion diced

1 large red bell pepper diced

3 cloves garlic minced

1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan cheese

2 cans tomato sauce/puree seasoned with favorite spices (i.e. brown sugar, salt, pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, etc) or 2 jars favorite tomato sauce

Directions


Step I

Sautee ground chuck and Italian sausage in lightly oiled pot, until brown. Meanwhile, using food processor or sharp knife chop onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, and mince garlic. Remove vegetables and set aside. Allow meat to cool and then place in food processor in order to break meat apart. Add meat and vegetables back to pot and cook until vegetables are tender, over medium heat.  Add 2 cans/jars tomato sauce. Reduce heat and simmer on low.

Step II

Boil pasta in large pot with water. Let cook approximately 10-15 minutes or until al dente. Remove from heat and drain immediately and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Step III

In a large bowl, combine/whisk the following ingredients: ricotta cheese, parsley flakes, salt, pepper, eggs and spinach. Stuff shells by the tablespoon full. Keep warm in covered shallow dish until ready to serve or spoon warm sauce onto bottom of dish and top with shells.

Step IV

When ready to serve, place 1/2 cup of meat sauce in bowl or on plate. Top sauce with 4-5 shells per serving.  Garnish with shredded mozzarella and/or additional sauce.